Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 689
Stanza 1, lines 1–2; stanza 2, line 11
“Pied Beauty” opens and closes with variants of the two mottoes of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), of which Hopkins was a member. As cited by Peter Milward in A Commentary on the Sonnets of G. M. Hopkins, the two mottoes are: “Ad majorem Dei gloriam (To the greater glory of God) and Laus Deo semper (Praise be to God always).” Milward points out that it is customary for pupils in Jesuit schools to write an abbreviated form of the former motto, A. M. D. G., at the beginning of each written exercise, and the latter motto, L. D. S., at the end. Thus Hopkins appears to be treating his poem as an exercise in the Jesuit tradition.
Line 1 begins a hymn of praise to God for creating “dappled things” that embody the “Pied Beauty” of the title. These are things of mottled or variegated hue that display variety and pairs of opposites (such as light and dark). The whole of stanza 1, the sestet of the curtal sonnet, consists of a number of such things. Line 2 gives two examples of dappled things. In a simile, the poet likens “skies of couple-colour” to a “brinded” or striped cow, since both are of two contrasting colors.
Stanza 1, lines 3–4
The poet turns his attention to the river, where trout swim, their skins showing rose-colored markings “all in stipple,” meaning spots such as an artist might create by using small touches of the brush, a technique known as stippling. Then the poet draws attention to the windfalls from chestnut trees. When chestnuts hit the ground, their dull brown shells break open to reveal reddish-brown nuts within, which the poet likens in a metaphor to coals that break open in a fire and glow red. He notes the wings of finches, which are of varied colors.
Stanza 1, lines 5–6
The poet broadens his vision to take in the landscape. This is not an untouched, virgin landscape, but a landscape worked and shaped by man: it is “plotted and pieced,” meaning divided into sections or plots. A “fold” is an enclosure for sheep; “fallow” refers to a field left for a period of rest between crops; and “plough” refers to a field tilled in preparation for crop planting. All these references include, by implication, man’s intervention in the natural landscape. In line 6, the poet draws more direct attention to man, this time in the form of his trades and the clothes and tools associated with them. The trades are spoken of in terms of their neatness and orderliness: “gear and tackle and trim,” with “trim” perhaps suggesting the sailboats of fishermen.
Stanza 2, lines 7–8
In the quatrain of the curtal sonnet, the poet leaves behind the concrete examples of dappled things of stanza 1. He turns his attention inward, to his reflections on the abstract qualities he admires in “dappled things.” He appreciates their oddness, uniqueness, and rarity, all of which contribute to their preciousness. His use of the words “fickle” and “frecklèd” to describe these things is noteworthy, as these are both qualities that were neither admired nor appreciated in the Victorian age. “Fickle” was most often applied to inconstant lovers (more frequently women) and unstable and capricious people. Many ladies with freckled complexions employed poisons and potions to try to remove the marks and attain the uniformly pale color that was fashionable. The poet’s description of these things as “counter,” as well as meaning contrary to expectation and therefore unusual, suggests an opposition to the mainstream of opinion. The interjection of “who knows how?” adds an element of wonder and mystery.
Stanza 2, lines 9–11
The poet describes the way in which the dappled things are “fickle, frecklèd”: they embody pairs of opposite or contrasting abstract qualities. Those mentioned are swiftness and slowness, sweet and sour, and brightness and dimness. In conclusion, the poet returns to the theme he introduced in the first line: the creator of all this variety, change, and contrast is God, “whose beauty is past change.” He ends with a simple half-line consisting only of the exhortation, “Praise him.”
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